Cardinal slams 'brainwashing' in schools plan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 September, 2011, 12:00am


Government-imposed reforms of school management will allow officials to dictate a national education agenda that will 'brainwash' students, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun warned yesterday.

Zen, the former head of the Catholic Church in the city, called on teachers and students to resist the government's plan to introduce the agenda at all primary and secondary schools. He criticised it as 'too vague' and said it could end up encouraging extreme nationalism.

'What exactly does the subject want to teach? Does national education mean unconditional support for the Communist Party? Does it mean appreciation of the party's rule throughout the history,' Zen asked at a forum on the issue held by the Catholic Education Office.

A member of the audience asked whether the Catholic Church would encourage teachers to stage civil disobedience against the agenda or apply for a judicial review against it.

Zen (pictured) did not rule out either possibility, but said the timing for such a move was not right, 'as the government is still consulting. But various stakeholders should actively oppose the plan'.

A public consultation on the proposal ended on August 31, but critics of the plan say the government has failed to provide details about its curriculum during this process.

Under the proposal, all primary and secondary schools must offer classes in national education as a separate subject.

Zen also spoke against a government plan to oblige all schools receiving government aid to set up management committees that include parents, teachers and community representatives.

The Catholic Church has been fighting this proposal, arguing in the courts that it will reduce its autonomy in running its schools. The case is now before the Court of Final Appeal.

Zen said the church's autonomy in school management provided 'checks and balances' against inappropriate national education imposed by the government.

'The Catholic Church is obliged to offer checks and balances against the government and to uphold people's power, and we have never abused this power,' he said. 'Without this [autonomy], the government can do whatever it wants, including brainwashing youths with wrong and extreme nationalism.'

Education sector lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong agreed that the government should not force national education on all primary and secondary schools and that schools' autonomy should be defended.

'If the teachers wish, they can stand up to the government proposal and decide on what to teach,' said Cheung, a member of the Democratic Party.

'The government has no power to interfere on class content - many teachers teach the June 4 [crackdown] during classes even though it is not in textbooks.'

The Education Bureau did not comment directly on Zen's criticism, saying only that public views would be taken into account.